Psychology Majors Guide

What Does it Mean to Study Psychology?

Psychologists study mental processes and human behavior, searching for patterns to help them understand the behavior and predict future behaviors. Psychological research has contributed to our understanding of the ways in which individuals, groups, organizations, institutions, nations and cultures behave.

Types of Psychology Degrees

Students wanting to pursue a degree in psychology can find programs available at every level. A doctoral degree usually is required for independent practice as a psychologist, and a master’s or specialist degree is required to work as a school psychologist. A bachelor’s degree in psychology, however, can open the door to assisting psychologists and other professionals in community mental health centers, vocational rehabilitation offices, and correctional programs, among other places.

At the bachelor’s level, psychology graduates are sought in fields like statistics, probation and corrections, public relations, health education, social work, human resources, recreational therapy, education, physician assisting, and much more. Bachelor’s degree holders may also work as administrative assistants for psychologists. A graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology may also find employment in fields such as sales, service, or business management.

Certificate Programs in Psychology

Undergraduate psychology certificate programs introduce students to the basics of psychological theory, research, and behavior. These programs rarely lead directly to job opportunities on their own. Instead, an undergraduate certificate program is best used as a supplement to other degree programs, or as a way to determine if further study of psychology may be right for you. In some cases, the credits earned may be applied toward degree programs. Common courses for certificate level psych programs include:

  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Growth and Development
  • Psychology and Social Issues
  • Abnormal Psychology

Associate Degrees in Psychology

For some students, an associate degree program in psychology is undertaken in order to learn skills that can be useful to entry-level careers in a wide variety of fields. For others, it is used as a stepping stone on the path to pursuing studies of psychology at the bachelor’s degree level. Associate degree programs typically take two years of full-time study to complete. Core courses may include topics such as:

  • Psychology of Personal Growth
  • Psychology and Substance Abuse
  • Lifespan and Psychological Development
  • Psychology in Sports

Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology

At the bachelor’s degree level, a psychology major studies the major theoretical concepts behind each school of psychology. Students learn how to apply those theories to business situations, relationships between others, and the emotional and cognitive functioning of individuals. A psychology degree may help students obtain employment in a variety of positions in various industries, or they may wish to continue their studies at the graduate level. Generally speaking, students can expect to spend four years of full-time study earning their bachelor’s degree. Although individual courses vary by school, common topics covered at this level often include:

  • Psychological Research Methods
  • Biological Elements of Behavior
  • Introduction to Clinical Psychology
  • Human Lifespan Development

Master’s Degrees in Psychology

A master’s degree in psychology is particularly helpful for students who are interested in specific types of counseling positions, such as marriage and family counseling or substance abuse counseling. Typical courses at the master’s level vary widely by school and educational focus. Some common courses may include:

  • Aging and Adult Development
  • Development of Children and Adolescents
  • Cognitive Bases of Behavior
  • Research Methods and Statistics for Psychology
  • Ethics in Clinical Psychology Practice

Doctoral Programs in Psychology

Students wanting to pursue careers as a clinical psychologist must first complete a doctoral program in psychology. A master’s degree in psychology is almost always required for admission. Additionally, students may be expected to complete a dissertation, fulfill in-person clinical experience requirements, or both. Doctoral programs generally take two years of full-time study to complete. Students have the opportunity to specialize in specific areas of psychology during their studies. Courses vary by specialization and institution but may include:

  • Advanced Statistical Methods for Psychology
  • Psychodiagnostics
  • Ethical and Professional Concerns for Clinical Psychology
  • Psychoanaltyic Theory
  • Foundations of Psychotherapy

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Psychology?

Psychologists might provide mental health care in many different facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, schools, or private settings. Psychologists use techniques such as interviewing and testing to help people deal with problems on a daily basis.

The academic and private segments of the field offer the most opportunity for those who wish to pursue a career in psychology. Some choose to go into private practice while others pursue paths in industrial and organizational psychology. Many graduates of advanced psychology degree programs pursue careers in academics, teaching future psychologists and extending their own education through research and collaboration with students and colleagues. University psychologists usually have to fulfill teaching, administrative, and research responsibilities. Some psychologists employed in academia also maintain a part-time consulting practice.

You may find a psychology major employed in any of the following positions:


Psychologists use a variety of techniques to study emotional, cognitive, and social behaviors and patterns as they relate to interpersonal and environmental stimuli. As mentioned above, psychologists work in a variety of settings, including private clinical practice, behavioral counseling, and developmental psychology. Some psychologists also choose to work in schools, as industrial and organizational psychologists, or even in forensic psychology.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: In most instances, psychologists must earn a doctoral degree – although some positions may only require a master’s degree.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Clinical psychologists and those in private practice are required to obtain a license from the state in which they work.

Mental Health Counselor or Marriage and Family Therapist

Mental health counselors help clients deal with emotional and cognitive disorders. Marriage and family therapists assist their clients in dealing with emotional and interpersonal issues. These mental health professionals encourage their clients to acknowledge, confront, and process difficult emotions and experiences. They also help their clients acquire healthy coping methods while treating disorders such as depression and anxiety. Some of these professionals may also specialize in treating specific segments of the population.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: To practice as a mental health counselor or marriage and family therapist, a master’s degree in psychology or a related field is needed. An internship or residency is usually required as well.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Both mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists are required to be licensed by the state in which they practice.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors

Substance abuse and behavior disorder counselors help support and treat people who are suffering from various addictions and disorders. Eating disorders, alcoholism, and drug abuse are a few of the issues that these professionals help treat. Counselors assist clients with creating treatment plans, work with them to meet their treatment goals, and help clients to establish the skills needed to overcome their addiction or disorder. Additionally, counselors assist their clients’ family members by offering them information about these disorders and guidance on how they can help their loved one recover.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: Generally speaking, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for an entry-level position as a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor. However, some employers seek candidates with a master’s degree. Those counselors working in private practice must have a Master’s degree.
  • Special Certifications and Licensures: Licensure requirements vary by state. However, all counselors in private practice must hold a license.

Social Workers

Social workers are responsible for helping people confront and deal with a wide variety of problems. These professionals often specialize in working with certain groups of people such as children, elderly individuals, or those dealing with addiction. Generally speaking, they assess their client’s needs and help them obtain the assistance or services they need. They may also be charged with advocating for individual clients or for a group of people as a whole.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: A bachelor’s degree in social work is generally considered the minimum educational requirement for entry-level positions. A bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology, may also be sufficient. Clinical social workers must obtain a master’s degree.
  • Special Certifications and Licensures: Licensing of social workers is handled at the state level and is required in most states.

Psychology Salaries and Career Outlook Data

Total Employment
Annual Mean Wage
Marriage and Family Therapists59,050$54,590
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists113,270$87,450
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors283,540$49,950
Child, Family, and School Social Workers327,710$51,030

Psychology Associations and Organizations

Students who successfully complete psychology degree programs have a number of professional organizations and associations that can help support their professional development. Many of these organizations are intended to serve members who are participating in specific careers. Some of them include:

  • American Psychological Association (APA) — The APA seeks to promote and improve psychological research and apply it for society’s benefit. The association features scholarly journals and educational opportunities for its members.
  • American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) — The ABPP oversees the certification process. Professional psychologists can earn certification from the ABPP after successful completion of an exam.
  • National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) — The NBCC offers a voluntary examination to individuals who are hoping to earn and maintain certification as a counselor. The board also features resources for the public as well as continuing education resources for members.

Article Sources


  1. AA Applied Psychology, Florida Tech,
  2. Clinical Psychology @ City College, The City University of New York,
  3. Master’s Degree in Psychology Online, Palo Alto University,
  4. Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  5. Psychologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  6. Psychology Bachelor’s Degree, University of Maryland – University College,
  7. Social Workers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  8. Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  9. Undergraduate Psychology Certificate, Ashworth College,
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